14 Jul 2010

von Waltershausen: Oberst Chabert

Oberst Chabert (Colonel Chabert): Tragic opera in 3 acts.

Music composed by Hermann Wolfgang von Waltershausen. Libretto adapted by composer from La Comtesse à deux maris by Honoré de Balzac.

First performance: 18th January 1912, Frankfurt am Main.

Click here for background information.

Plot Summary:

The novella opens with clerks in the Paris law office of Derville, an attorney, looking out the window and mocking a determined old man walking through the streets. Le Colonel Chabert is famous for its in medias res opening.

Colonel Chabert marries Rose Chapotel, who was living a modest life. Colonel Chabert then becomes a French cavalry officer who is held in high esteem by Napoleon Bonaparte. After being severely wounded, in the Battle of Eylau (1807), Chabert is recorded as dead and is buried with other French casualties. Though he does survive—after extricating himself from his own grave—and is nursed back to health by local peasants, it takes several years for him to recover. After he recovers, he returns to Paris and discovers his “widow” has married the wealthy Count Ferraud. She has also liquidated all of Chabert’s belongings. Seeking to regain his name and monies that were wrongly given away as inheritance, he hires Derville, an attorney, to win back his money and his honor. Derville, who also represents the Countess Ferraud, warns Chabert against accepting a settlement bribe from the Countess. In the end, Chabert walks away empty handed from his widow and spends the rest of his days at a hospice.

In Le Colonel Chabert Balzac juxtaposes two world-views: the Napoleonic value-system, founded on honour and military valour; and that of the Restoration. Chabert was not killed at the Battle of Eylau, though it was thought that he was. He struggles back to life but cannot reclaim his identity. His “widow”, who is actually his wife, and who fittingly was a prostitute in her early adult years, is now the Comtesse Ferraud, married (or so it would seem) to an important Restoration nobleman and politician. She repudiates her “former” husband (just as Ferraud, in changed political circumstances, would now be happy to repudiate her). All that matters in the modern era is social rank based upon the possession of money, especially inherited wealth.

This theme of the trenchant purity of the military way of life is something to which Balzac returns in La Rabouilleuse, but there the subject is treated quite differently.

[Plot Summary Source: Wikipedia]


The above link to streaming audio is a playlist in m3u format. There are three files in this playlist. If you have problems accessing all of these files, use the following links to the individual acts: